Sometimes, when people ask me what I do, one of the first things they say is, “So, how did you end up doing relationship coaching?”
It was a long and winding path!
My academic background is in Sociology. For any of you who might not know, this is the study of how people relate to themselves and to other people in society.
In fact, I studied Sociology at the PhD level – I even published a book on family dynamics. It’s called, “(No)Where To Go” – in it, I wrote about troubled youth and their families.
I can remember when I was researching this book at university many years ago, studying and working on my Master’s Degree while teaching sociology to undergraduate students.
My professors were encouraging me to apply for academic scholarships – and I got them!
I loved my life.
I was living in this adorable little bachelor apartment over a Russian-Ukranian restaurant in Vancouver on Main Street – friends would always tell me that my place smelled like fried onions.
But aside from that, it was a wonderful place to live. I loved sitting in my sunroom and journaling or reading as the rain drizzled down through the fall and winter months.
Best of all, I met somebody at the university and fell head over heels in love. Her name was Melissa – some people called her Mel, but I knew that she preferred Melissa.
Everything was perfect.
This was the first time I’d really been in love. Melissa was sweet and she listened to me – like I listened to her. We’d spend 18 hours a day together, sometimes all day, around the clock, talking and connecting.
We loved to do the same things – we used to go for sushi together; we liked to shoot pool together; and we were also interested many of the same things at school.
One of her most deeply cherished dreams was to go and meet some family she had in another province – family she’d never met but always really wanted to connect with. We talked about this together, often.
During one of our marathon conversations, she came to a really big decision: it was time to finally go and meet her family. I was so excited for her and listened while she made her plans, talked about her fears, and shared her hopes about how it would go.
I remember driving her to the airport.
We were both really teary because we didn’t want to be apart during her trip.
I remember the moment when we were saying goodbye, standing outside the security gate at the airport. We hugged each other like we didn’t want to let go, the minutes ticking away as we cried together.
Suddenly, I became aware of this cold lump in my heart – there was a great, big weight there, like a lead balloon.
It said, “She’s not coming back” – and this fear took hold of me.
Of course, I tried to ignore that desperate, unwelcome feeling. I really tried to dismiss it.
“Promise you’ll come back”, I said.
She smiled at me tearfully and replied, “Of course I’m coming back, silly!”
We finished saying our goodbyes and she promised to be in touch in a couple of days.
Then I drove home alone, back to my bachelor apartment where I cried some more. My heart just hurt, you know?
“It’s okay”, I said to myself. “You’ll hear from her in a couple of days”.
A week went by.
Then another week.
No word from Melissa. I tried to call her at the number she had given me but no one ever picked up the phone.
Four weeks went by. Then five. Then six. Not a word from her. She was supposed to home by now.
And I realized: it was over.
For the life of me, I couldn’t figure out what had gone wrong.
I had no idea!
It had seemed so perfect: the things that she has said to me about how she felt so seen, so understood – for the first time in her life. We spoke often and openly about how she was experiencing our relationship. She seemed so in, so devoted, so connected…just like I was.
Or so I’d thought.
I couldn’t even ask her why she didn’t come home.
I couldn’t reach her by phone or email. It was sheer agony, an actual physical pain in my heart. And the questions, they would keep me awake all night:
“Why…? Why…? Why?”
I felt like I couldn’t reach out to my friends and co-workers about my heartbreak – I was too ashamed to speak about it. I felt like, somehow, I was stupid for believing in our relationship – like I was some kind of dupe.
I really felt like I had been fooled by Melissa, and I was deeply embarrassed. I couldn’t bear to see the looks of sympathy on my friends’ faces.
Finally, I had this moment.
I remember, I was looking at my reflection in the bathroom mirror and I suddenly realized: I had cared for a string of Melissas.
She was by far the person I’d loved most deeply.
But the truth was, I’d had a string of these relationships where I was so hopeful…and it didn’t work out.
Then I was hopeful – sure that this was it. And then it didn’t work out, again and again…and again.
That was the moment when it happened: I was struck by an even more painful recognition.
The single common denominator in every failed relationship I’d ever had…was me.
Relationships were the most important thing to me, the most important thing in my life. And this was the moment when I knew…I had to do anything I could to figure out how to change this heartbreaking pattern.
So I started to study in earnest – not limiting myself to just the big social and family dynamics of relationship.
I immersed myself in every kind of information about relationships I could find.
I studied the lighter side of relationships, like how to bring in more laughter, create more playfulness, share more adventure; how to connect with a soul mate, and how to create a deep, lasting, intimate partnership.
I also started to look at the shadowy side of relationships: for example, I studied about the effects of things like infidelity and substance use on relationships.
But the most important thing I did…was sit with myself.
I started a meditation practice.
I had to just sit on that cushion and be with myself – be with my sadness, my grief, my fears, my shame.
I had to just sit there and feel my insecurities, all of them, one at a time, patiently.
I had to sit and be with all of it.
And it was really, really painful. I mean it was desperately uncomfortable.
But I stayed with my daily meditation, just as I kept studying.
Eventually, I decided to take a chance and go out on a date.
I remember that evening so clearly.
We met online – yes, it can happen!
After emailing back and forth for about a week or so – exchanging long, meandering messages about all the things we loved and were curious and passionate about – we decided it was time to meet in person.
So, we went out on a dinner date to this restaurant in Toronto called Big Mamma’s Boy (it probably goes without saying that it wasn’t the name of the restaurant that grabbed me – it was just that they had gluten-free items on the menu).
We were sitting there at this little table-for-two and it was quiet in the restaurant. The staff could tell that we were out on a date, so they mostly left us alone.
We talked for five hours.
After that, we still weren’t ready to say goodnight, so we went for a walk – for another two hours!
I remember noticing during dinner how incredibly different I felt on this date.
It wasn’t so much about the person across the table from me.
What I was noticing was that…I felt completely different. I felt so unselfconscious, so comfortable in my own skin.
I also noticed that I was being incredibly open, sharing absolutely everything about myself and not worrying about whether or not she would accept or reject me.
Let me tell you, this woman was no Melissa.
But most importantly, I was a different kind of Erin.
Or really, I guess you might say, I was more Erin. There was more of me there on that date because I was more present than I had ever been with anyone before.
I was finally beginning to really show up, fully, faithfully, with all of myself.
And I felt completely unafraid of what she might see.
It was in that particular moment I realized that – for me – the golden key to great relationship isn’t that the face across the table is the ‘right’ person.
It’s not waiting for that person to change (or trying to change them).
And it’s especially not about changing myself in order to be with them – buying their love by trying to be who I thought I should be so that they might love and accept me.
For me, the golden key to a great relationship…is self-awareness. It was all about befriending and accepting myself – so that then, I could show up and be fully present in a relationship.
Know what happened with that woman I went on that (gluten-free) date with?
I married her.
We have a beautiful home together in Toronto. We cook together and take our adorable dog on long, rambling walks.
We go on adventures together, like taking back-country canoe treks and trips abroad.
Canoe-treks, especially, were something completely new to me, something I never did before – and was more than a little hesitant to try.
But I did it because it was something she spoke about with such a light in her eyes, with so much excited anticipation – and I wanted to stretch myself, to go out into the woods and lakes of Ontario and see her light up as she did her favourite thing in the world.
I now live with my closest confidante, someone I have deep, emotional intimacy with – and a profound connection to.
Every morning I roll over and look into her beautiful, warm brown eyes. She’s just gazing at me. And I see her. But most importantly, I see her…seeing me.
And I get to be this woman’s witness for the most sacred, joyful, and intimate parts of her life – just as she shows up to be my witness for all the beautiful, hard, and sacred parts of my life.
After some amazing years together, we fulfilled a shared dream…and started a family.
Watching all the new dimensions of my soul partner emerge through the process of getting pregnant, being pregnant, and then becoming parents…well, let’s just say that the incredible depth of joy and gratitude I feel is completely beyond my ability to put it into words.
Too, I have, within the circle of our marriage, an incredible witness to all of the changes, all the new parts of me that have come into being as we parent our remarkable, delightful daughter.
Through all of this, we are still continuing that conversation we began on that first date, talking about our passions and our frailties; our deepest, most sacred wishes and our dreams for life…together.
So, if you know what it’s like to struggle in your relationships, too, take heart. I was a relationship disaster.
Now, I’m not only in the BEST relationship of my life – I’ve worked with thousands of private coaching clients and workshop participants, helping them to create the best relationships of their lives – from doctors, psychologists, and CEO’s to educators, artists and retirees.
If you’re curious about how Total Relationship Coaching can create the best relationships of your life – whether you’re single, content in your marriage or struggling through a rough patch – I’m offering you a chance to get me one-on-one for a complimentary, 45-minute Relationship Reboot Strategy Session.
Note: I only offer two of these Relationship Reboot Strategy Sessions per week and exclusively to professionals who are serious about creating hot, happy, and healthy relationships. If that is you, shoot me an email asap so we can get you scheduled in. Talk to you soon!
Erin Bentley, MA, is a Total Relationship Coach, Author, and Workshop Leader to sold-out virtual and LIVE seminars and events.
For over nine years, Erin has been a private coach to clients and workshop participants.
Erin assists couples and individuals to discover how to create the BEST relationships of their lives with ease – so that they can create the deep, lasting love and connection they desire and deserve!